The New Sound of Bedroom Pop: An Interview with Michael Seyer
When he comes out on stage, he doesn’t announce his presence with a loud guitar strum or with stomping feet; nevertheless, the reaction couldn’t have been more immediate. As soon as the first glassy, high-strung marimbas start reverberating off the walls of The Sinclair — a preface to the first song of the night, “Ring Around the Rosie” — the room falls silent. People begin to nod their heads in unison, as wave after wave of soft pop hooks and sugary harmonies washes over them. When he starts to sing, his voice both fades into the lush instrumentation and, at the same time, effortlessly floats above it, propped up rather than drowned out by the rest of his ensemble.
Miguel Reyes, better known by his stage moniker Michael Seyer, grew up just outside of Los Angeles in the bordering Culver City. His childhood tended towards feelings of estrangement and loneliness, much of which he attributes to his perceived “ethnic ambiguity” as a Filipino American in a predominantly-Jewish suburb. However, while much of his music draws inspiration from his struggle with these deep-seated emotions, Seyer could hardly be called an emotional singer; at least, not in the traditional sense of the term. Rather, he captures the essence of that ambiguous space between passion and detachment, between apathy and longing, within which the emerging “bedroom pop” sound has marked its territory. Like a twenty-first century Lou Reed (with a higher vocal range), Seyer effortlessly pulls out layers of emotionality that have been baked into his songs, with nothing more than his characteristically singular tone of voice and kaleidoscopic chord progressions.
Everything about Seyer’s performance exudes a sense of calm, of not feeling the need to make it about anything but the next line, and he does this so well that it often seems like he’s not even trying. Making a mistake is never an option for him; but, even if it was, he wouldn’t worry about it. He’s simply there to pour out generous helpings of his honeyed poetry, and have us swallow it with satiated ears and sleepily nodding heads. One barely notices the hopeful, yet starkly nihilistic worldview painted by some of his lyrics.
Considering his relaxed, almost introverted stage presence, I was almost taken aback by the enthusiastic “Oh, Lucas!” with which he responded to my introduction at the merch table, where he likes to take pictures with fans and sign vinyl covers after his shows. Here, I find yet another contradiction that complicates Seyer: onstage, he is introspective yet resolute, emotional yet completely at ease; whereas offstage, he is energetic, friendly, and approachable. Throughout our interview, he seamlessly jumps from laughing at himself for being a “whiny b*tch” on Ugly Boy (his 2016 debut), to talking seriously about being an independent artist and speculating on the future of his music career. While Seyer seemed less inclined to talk about his plans for future projects, there is no doubt that his refreshing update on a staple bedroom-pop aesthetic is going to serve as verdant creative terrain for years to come.
The only advice I would give is to buy tickets while they’re still cheap.
Excerpts from transcript below, edited for clarity.
So, I'm here with Michael Seyer, who just performed at The Sinclair. How are you feeling?
I'm feeling really good! The crowd was really great.
How did Boston measure up?
Boston measured up! They were a good crowd, especially since the last show we played last night was pretty crappy.
Yeah, I saw something on your Twitter about the sound guy...?
Well, the crowd was incredible, but the sound guy was terrible. And the crowd was incredible today, but the sound guys were amazing.
Yeah, no, the sound was really great. I've never been disappointed by concerts here.
Yeah, I was really happy. This seems like a really nice venue.
Yeah, it's great. So, Men I Trust... I actually interviewed them a couple of days ago, and they said L.A. was one of their favorite cities. And, since you're from there, would you say that you agree with that sentiment?
Like on the tour?
Yeah, or just in general.
Oh, in general, of course. Yeah, in general, Los Angeles is, like, one of my favorite cities because I live there and I couldn't imagine anywhere else. But, as for the tour, the second show of L.A. was cool. I brought my mom up. She played shaker, and that was really cool. San Fran was super fun. This was a fun city. So, yeah, there was a few cities that were pretty cool.
So, as an album, Bad Bonez seems to feel a little more polished than some of your earlier ones. What are some of the other ways that you feel like your music is changing? Do you feel like your music is going in a different direction?
Uh, yeah, I mean, moving forward, I'm always trying to be as best of a musician as I can possibly be, whether that's performing my lyrics or just production. So, I think moving forward, I'm just striving to be, like you said, polished. I've been recording a few things here and there, and, you know, I'm really excited to put it out, because I feel like it's exciting new sound that's not too different from the rest of my discography. But, just a little... a little better in, I guess, structure and production...
Your music seems to come, at least in part, from these feelings of loneliness or isolation, which is, I think, part of what makes it relatable to such a wide range range of people. Is there anything else you would say is kind of a consistent theme that keeps cropping up in your music? Are there people that you think about?
Yeah, yeah! I think isolation definitely is a big theme, a recurring theme in my music. But, at the same time, I think also connection would be another one. You know, because I feel so isolated, I want to be able to connect with others. And, like, the connections that I already do have... I value them a lot, even if they're kind of lost, or unreciprocated, or, you know, kind of disintegrating.
Definitely. And, I mean, one thing that I feel like has changed since Ugly Boy is that you seem to be a little more optimistic.
Oh yeah, yeah. That was a really depressing... I mean, I feel like a lot of my music is sadder, or at least bittersweet, but Ugly Boy... yeah. Sometimes I'll listen to it, and I'm like, man, you were such a whiny bitch, bro.
You recently finished your degree in creative writing, and you've mentioned that you used to write poetry. Do you feel like the lyricism in your songs has been a good outlet for that side of you?
Oh, yeah. I mean, I would like... you know, in an ideal world, I would like to have all the time to write poetry, and just, you know, be good at that, but I think poetry is far harder…
Yeah, I think, as far as a textual art goes — like, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, prose — I think poetry is the hardest. And that also includes, in that kind of category, music lyrics. I think poetry is way harder, so writing music for me is a poetic outlet, because poetry is way too hard. So, I co-opt to do the music writing. Cause, it's like, so standalone, you know? Like, with music lyrics, you can get away with a few things. You can get away with a few things, if something sounds kind of pretty, you know, or if you say it the right way. But poetry is just the text itself, and how it stands at the end of the day on the paper.
In the past, you've kind of mentioned a sense of ambiguity about being considered special. And yet, you've obviously building a really strong fan base, touring with all these big names… do you like the direction your career is taking?
Yeah, I do. Like I said, I'm independent, and I honestly can't see it any other way. And like, moving forward, I definitely want to make... I only want to make choices that will help me… But, yeah, I only want to make decisions that help me get to that state of being as free an agent as I possibly can be. So, it's tough at times not to have the support of labels, you know? But, I've gotten this far, and I like where I'm at, and I like the freedom. And I enjoy being independent, yeah.
That's great. And yeah, I think a lot of people appreciate that about your music, that it doesn't really feel... constructed. In, like, the bad sense of the word.
So, have you started thinking about working on a new project at all, or are you just riding the Bad Bonez wave?
I'm always thinking about writing new stuff. I mean, I'm constantly writing and I'm constantly, kind of like, just playing new tunes.
And you find time on tour?
Yeah... I mean, not really, but... I mean, since Bad Bonez it's been, like, a year. And so, during that time, I wasn't touring all the time, but, you know, I've been writing new stuff, so I don't have enough to be as ambitious to say that I'm going to put out a new album, but hopefully there'll be a body of work out there soon, and I just... I'm going to take a little time when I get back from tour and just see what... Try to bang it out.
That totally makes sense.
In your video for "I Feel Best When I'm Alone," you're shown painting the album cover for Bad Bones. Considering the fact that you do poetry, you make music, it wouldn't be surprising if you were also, like, a visual artist as well. Did you...?
Oh, no... I mean, it wouldn't be surprising, but I'm not visual whatsoever.
You didn't paint it?
No, it was all my drummer actually, he does all my merch. And he does all my creative, kind of like, visual direction, and yeah, he painted that. All I did was sit in my room for two hours and he painted me.
So lastly, but maybe most importantly, has your mom started letting you eat breakfast in bed?
Uh... yeah, I guess... she doesn't like it.
She's a clean freak, so she'd rather not let me, but uh... you know?
Yeah, I feel that. Did she laugh when she heard that?
I don't think she gets it, but... you know, parents, sometimes they don't get things right away. But, she appreciates the music now, so, yeah.
Lucas Mitchell is a DJ for The Darker Side. You can listen to TDS every Saturday night 10pm-6am and Sunday night 10pm-5am.